Do Formula-Fed Babies Sleep Better?

September 24, 2023
Writen by:  
Cydney Willoughby
Exploring the sleep benefits of formula-fed vs. breastfed babies. Get insights into sleep patterns and tips for better rest, regardless of feeding method

Babies wake up at night; we all know that! But did you know that some parents are under the impression that infant formula can impact their little ones’ sleep duration? The ongoing debate between breastfed babies and those fed with infant formula has sparked curiosity about the resulting differences in sleep patterns.

While breastfed babies are often associated with more frequent night feeds due to the natural supply of milk, some parents wonder if formula-fed babies sleep for longer stretches. In this exploration of the baby sleep realm, we’ll dive into the significant differences between breastfeeding and formula feeding, examining the potential impact on your baby’s health, sleep, and overall well-being.

We will also touch on some common feeding concerns, the coveted uninterrupted sleep, and whether it’s possible to exclusively breastfeed or use baby formula for a focal feed without compromising the little one’s rest.

Get ready to uncover the secrets of baby sleep and get your answer to the question: do formula-fed babies sleep better?

Understanding Infant Sleep Patterns

Babies are amazing when it comes to sleep, and their patterns of sleep change a lot as they grow! In the beginning, babies sleep for shorter periods and have more frequent sleep-wake cycles. But as they get older, their sleep schedule starts to resemble ours, with longer and more consolidated periods of rest.

When babies are brand new, they sleep for about 14 to 17 hours a day. Their sleep cycles can be as short as a few minutes or as long as a few hours. Usually, they wake up a lot! They might need feeding, a diaper change, or just a little cuddle. During this time, their sleep-wake cycles are still getting into a routine, so they might snooze during the day and stay up at night.

Around three to six months old, babies start to settle into a more structured sleep pattern. They’ll sleep longer, for about 15 hours in total, including naps. Nights become longer, and they might even develop a more predictable routine.

At around six months, most babies hit another big sleep milestone. They’ll have two to three naps during the day and sleep for about 10 to 11 hours at night. The good news is many babies start to sleep through the night without needing to be fed or comforted. This means that you get to rest as well!

Between nine and 12 months old, babies usually consolidate their sleep into two naps during the day. Each nap lasts around one to two hours. Whereas at night, they’ll sleep for about 11 to 12 hours. Some little ones might still wake up from time to time, but that’s pretty normal.

How do feedings affect how your baby sleeps?

Now, let’s talk about feeding and getting enough sleep. Different ways of feeding can influence how babies sleep.

Breast milk has lots of benefits, but some research suggests that it can mean more awakenings during the night. Breast milk is easily digested, so exclusively breastfed babies might get hungrier sooner and wake up more often.

On the other hand, some research suggests that formula-fed babies might have longer stretches of sleep at night compared to ones consuming breast milk. Formula feeding takes a bit longer to digest, so babies might not need to eat as frequently.

This may lead to more continuous sleep for those little dreamers, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that formula feeding and baby sleep patterns go hand in hand.

Interested in understanding the health aspects of breastfeeding vs. formula feeding? Don’t miss our revealing article, ‘Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding: Are Formula-Fed Babies Healthy?‘ to get a comprehensive view. Click to read now.

The Misconception of Formula Feeding and Sleep

Many people believe that formula feeding means longer sleep for little ones compared to breastfeeding. But guess what? The research doesn’t quite back up that claim!

It turns out that there isn’t strong evidence to support the idea that formula-fed babies have an advantage when it comes to sleep duration.

In fact, studies have shown that there’s actually little difference in sleep duration between breastfed and formula-fed infants. While some parents may notice longer sleep stretches in formula-fed babies, it’s important to remember that every baby is unique, and not all formula-fed babies get more sleep than babies that are breastfed.

Research studies haven’t consistently shown that formula-fed babies sleep better or longer than exclusively breastfed infants. Sleep is influenced by a whole bunch of factors, such as your baby’s age, individual differences, and other things happening in their little lives.

The Benefits of Breastfeeding for Sleep

Here’s an interesting tidbit: breast milk contains naturally occurring compounds such as tryptophan and melatonin precursors which can actually cause your baby to sleep better. These sleep-inducing hormones are known to play a role in regulating sleep-wake cycles and promoting better sleep quality.

And get a load of this, breast milk is a cyclic fluid that actually changes in composition along with the circadian rhythm. That means that your nighttime feed will contain higher levels of melatonin for an added sleep aid. So, exclusively breastfed babies might benefit greatly from these sleep-friendly components!

Also, let’s not forget the amazing benefits of breast milk beyond sleep. It’s like a magical elixir! It has antibodies, hormones, and other good stuff that boost your baby’s immune system, support healthy development, and create a special bond between you and your precious little one. These elements can provide your baby with comfort and security during sleep too!

Remember that other factors like age, growth spurts, hunger levels, comfort, and your baby’s environment all play a role in their sleep. So, whether your baby is feeding on breast milk or infant formula, their sleep can vary a lot because, well, babies are unique little beings.

Comparing Breastfed Babies and Formula-fed Babies’ Sleep Patterns

Regardless of your baby’s chosen form of feeding, hunger is a common culprit behind those nighttime wakings. As your little one grows, their sleep will naturally start to change.

By the time your baby reaches 1-3 months of age, you’ll likely notice a decrease in the frequency of nighttime awakenings. They’ll sleep longer, for stretches of 4-5 hours. However, don’t be surprised if they still wake up for a nighttime feed.

Actually, if you notice that your newborn is sleeping longer than usual, you might need to gently wake them up during the night to make sure they’re getting enough calories and nutrients. You don’t want them to miss out on nourishing goodness!

However, if you really want to ensure your baby sleeps for longer periods, you might want to try out certain techniques to help. These techniques include cluster feedings in the evening so your baby is more satiated, including one last feeding right before they doze off!

Another way would be to encourage your little one to stay awake during daytime feedings. This way, they’ll fill up during the day and, hopefully, be tired enough to have longer and more restful periods of sleep through the night.

Remember, every baby is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Moreover, if your little one is less than 4 months old, these techniques may be less effective than at a later point as your baby is still undergoing the process of establishing a regular circadian rhythm. It’s all about patience and finding the right rhythm and routine that suits your baby’s needs and your family’s lifestyle!

Factors That Influence Your Baby’s Sleep

When it comes to your baby’s sleep cycle, it’s important to remember that feeding methods are just one piece of the puzzle. Several other factors at play can influence how your little one sleeps, regardless of whether they’re breastfed or formula-fed. Let’s take a closer look at these points:

1) Your Baby’s Age:

First up, age plays a significant role. As your baby grows and develops, their sleep patterns naturally evolve. Newborn babies have a different sleep rhythm compared to older infants. They tend to sleep in shorter bursts in their early weeks and have more frequent wake-ups. But as your little one reaches the 3-6 month mark, their sleep gradually becomes more structured, with long stretches of sleep at night.

2) Developmental Milestones:

As your baby hits different milestones like rolling over, sitting up, or teething, it can disrupt their sleep. They may be more restless or wake up during the night. These changes are perfectly normal and temporary, but they can affect your baby’s overall sleep routine and, therefore, yours too!

3) Environmental Factors:

The sleep environment, temperature, noise level, and lighting can all impact your baby’s ability to sleep longer and soundly through the night. Creating a calm and soothing sleep environment and a bedtime routine can help promote better sleep, regardless of whether you feed them breast milk or baby formula.

Now, let’s see how different feeding practices can further affect these factors. Breastfed babies tend to have shorter sleep cycles, and they may wake up more frequently for feeds. This is because breast milk is easily digested, and breastfed babies often need more frequent nourishment.

However, it’s essential to note that opting for breast milk and sleep are not mutually exclusive. Breastfeeding mothers get tremendous benefits that go beyond sleep, such as bonding and offering optimal nutrition for their little ones.

The key is finding a balance that works for both the moms and breastfed babies. Some breastfeeding moms incorporate strategies like dream feeding or cluster feeding to help their little ones get enough milk and potentially longer stretches of sleep. These techniques might work for you too!

How to Improve Your Baby’s Sleep Regardless of Their Feeding Method

One of the most important factors that reassure babies is consistency. Babies thrive on routine, so creating a soothing bedtime ritual is like a secret signal that tells them it’s time to wind down and get cozy. Think warm baths, gentle massages, and sweet lullabies that will have them floating off to dreamland in no time.

First things first, establish a sleep schedule that works for your little one. Consistent nap times and bedtimes will help their internal clock get into a snooze-friendly rhythm. And when you start to see those sleepy cues, it’s the perfect moment to gently lay them down while they’re still a bit drowsy but awake. This helps them learn the art of self-soothing and falling asleep independently.

But it’s not just about routines; the sleep environment plays a big role too! We’ve got you covered with expert advice to keep your baby rested, safe and sound.

To create a sleep sanctuary, you can try to dim the lights, play some soothing white noise, and give them a gentle rock or sway. This is pure bliss for your little sleepyhead. And if nighttime awakenings happen, offer some comfort and reassurance, and if need be, a feed to help them settle back to sleep!

Did you know that placing your baby on their back to sleep is the safest position for slumber? It helps reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Also, make sure to keep that sleep surface nice and firm, without any loose bedding or fluffy pillows that could cause trouble. Oh, and don’t forget to set the room temperature just right – not too hot, not too cold, but just perfect for a cozy sleep!


Improving babies’ sleep is a goal that every parent strives for, regardless of whether they opt for breastfeeding or formula feeding. By implementing consistent routines and creating a safe sleep environment, you can create optimal conditions for your little one to sleep soundly!

Remember, every baby is unique, so it might take a bit of trial and error to find the winning combo for your little sleeper. But with these friendly tips and loads of patience, you’ll be well on your way to improving your baby’s sleep, no matter how they are getting their nutrients.

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